Randall Woolf was in town much of last week. For those of you who are unfamiliar with him, there is a good reason: Randy is one of those composers whose artistic development has been pretty focused, but whose professional profile is all over the map – which is to say that he can’t easily be pegged within a particular milieu.

Whether he is composing for members of Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, orchestrating the film
American Psycho, or creating works for the children’s ensemble Tales and Scales, Randy’s music occupies a terrain both familiar and yet fresh. His preferred medium seems to be the combination of sampled sound and live performers.

Listening to Woolf’s music is akin to looking at a familiar photograph in which each pixel has been magnified. You recognize the sources, but your attention is deepened and blurred through the detailed treatments. He likes to take vernacular styles – anything from hip-hop to country western – and mix them into metrically complex textures, feeding on their inherent energy while simultaneously commenting on that energy and its cultural context.

Imagine Steve Reich focusing his lens on the fine details in life instead of the grand scheme and you have a glimpse of one important facet of Woolf’s world.

Ransom Wilson led our orchestra in a performance of Woolf’s Hee Haw on Saturday night. Scored for chamber orchestra, two singers and sampler, Hee Haw subjects square dance music to sudden shifts in tone and perspective, from the caller’s exhortations to an extended passage of twisted fiddling. It’s funny and invigorating. I couldn’t help thinking, halfway through, that the shifting perspectives and angles ended up producing a cubist — rather than a square — dance.

Randy played a lot of his music for us in Composition Seminar on Friday. Go check out his work on myspace. I enjoyed all of it, but the piece that killed me was Everything is Green, with Rinde Eckart reading a story by David Foster Wallace accompanied by sampled sound and a live flute-and-piano duo. Much of Woolf’s work bristles with layers of energetic activity, but this piece let its poignant story unfold with a lovely balance of intricate yet transparent commentary.

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